The ageing process is a normal physiological process that commences at the time of conception in every living being. In humans, it is inevitable change, which varies in time, rate and degree from one individual to another. The changes in the body lead to a decrease in tissue flexibility, loss of some nerve cells, hardening of blood vessels and general decrease in body tone. These contrast with the body of the youth which is agile, flexible and very sensitive and supple with good muscle tone. No wonder many in the elderly group try to maintain their youthfulness by indulging in some artificial measures like having a face lift for women, dyeing the hair and wearing apparels often meant for the youngsters. On the average, the biblical life span of man is 70 years (Psalms 90:10) although some individuals were recorded to have lived beyond 100 years.
Scientifically, it has been suggested that ageing is programmed into cells hence the difference in life span between sexes. Among humans, women generally tend to outlive the men by about eight years. The process of human ageing must be considered within a complex and changing society. Thus it is being increasingly studied as a process that includes psychological and cultural components. Bio medical scientists in their research methods also analyse data that reflect the role of nutritional requirements, physical activity, smoking and dietary habits in the ageing process. In Nigeria and other countries, the retirement age of 65 years marks the beginning of old age. This is a time many unprepared civil servants dread most.
Psychological Problems of Ageing
This state of unpreparedness coupled with an uncertain means of livelihood makes old age a scourge. Economic insecurity in such persons often complicates matters especially as many of the elderly often face health problems which include normal losses of hearing, eyesight and memory. They also have increased livelihood of chronic diseases like cancer, and osteoarthritis. Because of the irregular income and absence of effective pensions and social security benefits, their economic welfare is poor. Some may have accommodation, transportation and even feeding problem. In the traditional African set up, children and grand children who were well cared for by a parent offer to take in such an aged parent in their home. If on the contrary, the parent had been wicked or uncaring, the child would rather wish such an aged parent dead than alive. Loneliness is often a major problem when there is no caring family and if the man or woman had lived a selfish life or is a divorcee. For such a person, old age is to be feared. Whereas with a stable marital relationship the companionship of the woman and the joy of receiving gifts from visiting children and grand children give the aged couple a happy home.
The grand children often look forward to such visits as a special meal of the grand mother is always appreciated and enjoyed. Living a decent life as a youth prepares one for an enjoyable old age free from numerous health and social problems.
Health Problems Associated with Ageing and Life Style
Chronic alcoholism leads to liver cirrhosis, alcoholic psychosis, senile dementia and impaired memory. Some develop server mental disorders characterized by gesting tremours and sexual dysfunction thus making old age a scourge. Smoking from youth predisposes ageing adults to lung cancer and others as well as chronic bronchitis. In most cases, the toxic chemicals also damage the blood vessels leading to premature ageing, skin wrinkling and erectile dysfunction. Unhealthy gluttonous eating habits increase the risk of obesity with its attendant complications. Poor dietary habit low in fruits and vegetables also predisposes to constipation. Arthritis which could be crippling makes the elderly unable to walk hence they resort to using walking sticks for supports. It is also known that some individuals develop diabetes during old age. In such cases, the legs become deprived of blood and so need to be amputated, blindness from cataracts also occurs frequently. Among the most dreaded effect of ageing is the hardening of blood vessels by fat deposits. When this affects the heart muscle, premature deaths result from heart attack.